What is rivalry?
According to Tyler & Cobbs (2017), a rival group is…
A highly salient outgroup that poses acute threat to ingroup identity and/or esteem

What are rivalry points?

To measure fans’ perceptions of rivalry, we provide our survey respondents with 100 ‘rivalry points’ to allocate across their favorite team’s opponents. We also ask respondents about their feelings and reactions toward rivals, as well as why their favorite team and the teams to which respondents allocate points should be considered rivals.

See the About page for a more thorough explanation of rivalry points.

What sparks a rivalry?
A thorough explanation can be found in Tyler & Cobbs (2015), but in short, there are 11 main antecedents that can be grouped into three categories: Conflict, Peer, and Bias.


Defining moment: Specific incident, positive or negative, between the competitors

Frequency of competition: Recurring competition between the opponents

Historical parity: Comparable success over a long period (greater than 10 years)

Recent parity: Comparable success within the last 10 years

Star factor: Extraordinary individuals (performers, personalities, or legacies)


Geography: Teams are located close to each other

Cultural similarity: Shared values between the teams/institutions/cities

Competition for personnel: Competition for recruits, coaches, players


Cultural difference: Disparate values between the teams/institutions/cities

Relative dominance: One team aspires to overcome the historical success or dominance of the other team

Unfairness: Perceived preferential treatment toward one team by league or competition authorities (e.g., governing bodies, referees)

Selected works by Tyler and/or Cobbs

Conference presentation: Morehead, C., Cobbs, J. B., DeSchriver, T. D., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, October). Accounting for rivalry in estimations of demand in MLS and the NHL. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Boston, MA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Conference presentation: Xantos, Y., Laumann, M., Harris, S., Cobbs, J. B., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, October). Sparks to the rivalry fire: Comparing the antecedents to rivalry across professional sports. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Boston, MA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Conference presentation: Nichols, B., Cobbs, J. B., & Tyler, B. D. (2017, August). Data-driven approaches to cause-related sports marketing: Conflicting effects of rival team presence. Research presented at the Summer Conference for the American Marketing Association (Summer AMA), San Francisco, CA. Presentation slides (forthcoming)

Conference presentation: Cobbs, J. B. & Tyler, B. D. (2017, June). Rivalry in Major League Soccer: Antecedents to rival fan discrimination. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), Denver, CO. Presentation slides

Journal article: Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2017). All rivals are not equal: Clarifying misrepresentations and discerning three core properties of rivalry. Journal of Sport Management, 31, pp 1-14. DOI:10.1123/jsm.2015-0371
Rivalry is ubiquitous across sports, yet the representation and specification of rivalry varies widely. Such discrepancy poses problems when distinguishing between multiple outgroups and when employing rivalry to explain related questions such as demand for sport consumption. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the many differing conceptions of rivalry and to discern properties of rivalry across different sports. We survey college football fans (N = 5,304) to empirically test the exclusivity, scale, and symmetry of rivalry; then, we replicate the study twice in the context of professional sports (1,649 NFL fans; 1,435 NHL fans).

Results consistently indicate that fans perceive multiple rivals (non-exclusive), rivalry intensity varies among rivals (continuous in scale), and opposing fans rarely share equivalent perceptions of the rivalry (bidirectional). Accordingly, we develop and test a parsimonious 100-point rivalry allocation measure that specifies these three properties of rivalry.

Conference presentation: Sparks, D., Cobbs, J. B., Tyler, B. D., & Gardner, J. (2016, November). Measuring rivalry across professional leagues: Is animosity consistent across sports? Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Presentation slides

Conference poster: Folz, A., & Cobbs, J. (2016, November). The spoils of championships: Fan identification, envy, and rivalry. Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Poster (pdf)

Conference presentation: Ditter, J., Cobbs, J., Tyler, B. D., & Nichols, B. S., (2016, November). Rivalry variation by geographic region: Are Canadians really more friendly? Research presented at the Annual Conference for the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Indianapolis, IN. Presentation slides

Conference presentation: Tyler, B. D., & Cobbs, J. (2016, August). Why is rivalry important to college football fans? A comparative analysis of 12 elements. Research presented at the Summer Educators Conference for the American Marketing Association (AMA), Atlanta, GA.

Journal article: Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Rival conceptions of rivalry: Why some competitions mean more than others. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(2), 227-248, DOI:10.1080/16184742.2015.1010558
Full Paper

Research question

Despite pervasive attention to the concept of rivalry, there is neither uniform definition nor universal understanding. The purpose of this paper is to explore sport rivalry and derby matches from the fan perspective and identify the most influential elements that characterize rivalry.

Research methods

This work employs a sequential exploratory mixed method design. Study 1 engaged 38 fans through open-ended questions to explicate antecedents to 76 rivalries. Study 2 used an exploratory factor analysis based on survey responses (n=429) that measured a broader sampling of rivalries to quantify the importance of the rivalry elements identified in Study 1.

Results and findings

We define a rival group as a highly salient outgroup that poses an acute threat to the identity of the ingroup or to ingroup members’ ability to make positive comparisons between their group and the outgroup. Study 1 identified 11 recurring elements of rivalry: frequency of competition, defining moment, recent parity, historical parity, star factors, geography, relative dominance, competition for personnel, cultural similarity, cultural difference, and unfairness. Study 2 confirmed these elements within three primary dimensions: Conflict, Peer, and Bias.


Our findings expand rivalry research by recognizing core rivalry antecedents useful for scholars investigating topics such as ticket demand, promotions, and sponsorship strategy. From a managerial perspective, these findings provide guidance to sport entities seeking to leverage rivalry to increase fan interest; conversely, when animosity surrounding a rivalry becomes overheated or violent, better understanding rivalry’s underpinnings can help managers deemphasize the rivalry’s most salient contributors.


Academic Course: Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Website for SpB 200: Rivalry & Ritual in International Sport
Open access course site | Syllabus

‘Rivalry and Rituals’ uses the socially prominent context of international sports to examine cultural development, influence, and conflict within and across persons and geographic boundaries.

Conference Presentation: Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2014, May). Visualizing rivalry intensity: A Social Network Analysis of fan perceptions. Research presented at the meeting of the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM), Pittsburgh, PA.
Full Abstract | Presentation Slides

Central to the conceptualization of rivalry is the process of social categorization and seeing the self and others as members of ingroups and outgroups. For some sport fans — especially those deemed highly identified — a favorite team becomes an extension of one’s self, and opposing teams and their fans are seen as dissimilar outgroups. Akin to other definitions, we view a rival as being a highly salient outgroup that poses an acute threat to the identity of the ingroup. To bring further clarity and consistency to the rivalry discussion, we quantify the perceived rivalries within a closed network of organizations by surveying college football fans (n=5,317) from 122 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, or Division I-A) teams using on an online questionnaire posted on 194 fan message boards. Through employing social network analysis (SNA), we graphically map rivalry scores in Netdraw and conduct further statistical analysis via UCINET SNA software. The network analysis results are most interesting when viewed graphically as nodes (universities) with bi-directional ties among them of various magnitude. In the study, we employ SNA measures of ego networks, centrality and power to reveal insights about the nature of rivalry.

Conference Presentation: Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2009, October). Advancing toward an understanding of sport rivalry. Paper presented at the meeting of the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Cleveland, OH.
Full Paper

The concept of rivalry is nearly ubiquitous across sports, and although the term “rival” appears frequently in academic work, researchers have not applied a consistent approach to determine what constitutes a rival. The purpose of this research is to identify key characteristics of a rivalry and the antecedents to rivalry formation. Also explored are the behavioral outcomes of a rivalry and, specifically, how individuals react toward a rival team and its fans. This initialization of a more rigorous conceptualization of rivalry began with a qualitative inquiry to set the foundation for a subsequent survey. Structural equation modeling was employed to analyze the potential indicators and outcomes of sports rivalry that emerged from the survey.

A Rivalry Bibliography

This is a limited but ever growing list. Please email us with omissions.

Angell, R., Gorton, M., Bottomley, P., & White, J. (2016). Understanding fans’ responses to the sponsor of a rival team. European Sports Management Quarterly, 16(2), 190-213. doi:10.1080/16184742.2015.1135975

Havard, C. T., Eddy, T. W., & Ryan, T. D. (2016). Examining the impact of team identification and gender on rival perceptions and consumption intentions of intercollegiate athletics fans. Journal of Applied Sport Management, 8(2). doi:10.18666/JASM-2016-V8-I2-6444

Lenor, S., Lenten, L., & Mckenzie, J. (2016). Rivalry effects and unbalanced schedule optimization in the Australian Football League. Review of Industrial Organization, 49(1), 43-69. doi:10.1007/s11151-015-9495-7

Wann, D. L., Havard, C. T., Grieve, G. F., Lante, J. R., Partridge, J. A., & Zapalac, R. K. (2016). Investigating sport rivals: Number, evaluations and relationship with team identification. Journal of Fandom Studies, 4, 71-88. doi:10.1386/jfs.4.1.71_1

Converse, B. A. & Reinhard, D. A. (2016). On rivalry and goal pursuit: Shared competitive history, legacy concerns, and strategy selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 191-213. doi:10.1037/pspa0000038

Kilduff, G., Galinksy, A., Gallo, E., & Reade, J. (2016). Whatever it takes to win: Rivalry increases unethical behavior. Academy of Management Journal, 59(5), 1508-1534. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0545

Delia, E. B. (2015). The exclusiveness of group identity in celebrations of team success. Sport Management Review, 18, 396-406. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2014.10.006

Quintanar, S. M., Deck, C., Reyes, J. A., & Sarangi, S. (2015). You are close to your rival and everybody hates a winner: A study of rivalry in college football. Economic Inquiry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ecin.12215

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2015). Rival conceptions of rivalry: Why some competitions mean more than others. European Sport Management Quarterly, 15(2), 227-248. 10.1080/16184742.2015.1010558

Sanford, K. & Scott, F. (2014). Assessing the intensity of sports rivalries using data from secondary market transactions. Journal of Sports Economics http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1527002514527112

Kilduff, G. J. (2014). Driven to win: Rivalry, motivation, and performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550614539770

Havard, C. T. (2014). Glory Out of Reflected Failure: The examination of how rivalry affects sport fans. Sport Management Review, 17, 243-253. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2013.09.002

Dmowski, S. (2013). Geographical typology of European football rivalries. Soccer & Society, 14, 331-343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14660970.2013.801264

Havard, C. T. & Eddy, T. (2013). Qualitative assessment of rivalry and conference realignment in intercollegiate athletics. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 6, 216-235.

Havard, C. T., Gray, D. P., Gould, J., Sharp, L. A., & Schaffer, J. J. (2013). Development and validation of the Sport Rivalry Fan Perception Scale (SRFPS). Journal of Sport Behavior, 36, 45-65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJSMM.2013.060628

Havard, C. T., Reams, L., & Gray, D. P. (2013). Perceptions of highly identified fans regarding rival teams in United States intercollegiate football and men’s basketball. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 14, 116-132.

Havard, C. T., Wann, D. L., & Ryan, T. D. (2013). Investigating the impact of conference realignment on rivalry in intercollegiate athletics. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 22, 224-234.

Benkwitz, A. & Molnar, G. (2012). Interpreting and exploring football fan rivalries: An overview. Soccer & Society, 13, 479-494.

Dalakas, V. & Melancon, J. P. (2012). Fan identification, schadenfreude toward hated rivals, and the mediating effects of Importance of Winning Index (IWIN). Journal of Services Marketing, 26, 51-59.

Cikara, M., Botvinick, M. M, & Fiske, S. T. (2011). Us versus them: Social identity shapes neural responses to intergroup competition and harm. Psychological Science, 22(3) 306-313.

Kilduff, G.J., Elfenbein, H.A., & Staw, B.M. (2010). The psychology of rivalry: A relationally dependent analysis of competition. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 943-969.

Luellen, T. B. & Wann, D. L. (2010). Rival salience and sport team identification. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 19, 97-106.

Tyler, B. D. & Cobbs, J. B. (2009, October). Advancing toward an understanding of sport rivalry. Paper presented at the meeting of the Sport Marketing Association (SMA), Cleveland, OH.

Armstrong, G. & Giulianotti, R. (Eds.) (2001). Fear and loathing in world football. Oxford, UK: Berg.